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Scottish Parliament considers weekly virtual questions for First Minister

Image credit: Parliament TV

Scottish Parliament considers weekly virtual questions for First Minister

The Scottish Parliament is considering holding weekly virtual question time sessions to allow party leaders to question the First Minister from tomorrow, despite being on Easter recess until April 19.

Presiding officer Ken Macintosh has written to all MSPs about the “need for parliament to be able to continue to hold the government to account during this public health crisis”.

Macintosh said he held a meeting of the Parliamentary Bureau on Tuesday to “review how best the parliament can continue to strike a balance” in scrutinising the Scottish Government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, while protecting the safety of MSPs and parliament staff.

“Like other legislatures, colleagues here have been very busy in recent weeks examining and testing a range of options for virtual working and I am pleased to say that the progress they are making is very encouraging indeed,” he said, in the letter.

“In the first instance, the Parliamentary Bureau is exploring holding a leaders’ virtual question time where party leaders can question the First Minister.

“It is hoped that we would be able to hold the first of these sessions on Thursday of this week and, all being well, I would then want to open this up in subsequent weeks to include questions from all members.”

He said more details on how this would operate will be firmed up today, as well as “necessary testing arrangements” to ensure the session runs smoothly.

“So I hope to be able to write with more details shortly, including how you can watch the question period remotely,” he said.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said the question and answer session would not be the same format as First Minister’s Questions (FMQs), which is held at midday on Thursdays during parliament's sitting weeks.

“Questions to the First Minister will be coming from party leaders so it is not strictly the same format of FMQs,” the spokesperson said.

In the letter to MSPs, Macintosh said the bureau had also considered proposals to create a short-life committee focused specifically on the Scottish Government’s response to COVID-19. However, since some committees had already started work in this areas, he said: “We will of course therefore be consulting conveners group on any proposals.”

“As you will appreciate, it is important that we give detailed consideration to the proposed remit of such a committee to ensure that it complements rather than overlaps the work of existing committees, some of which I know have already started work in this area,” he said. 

The bureau, conveners group, and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will meet again online next week and would “continue to look at the most effective options for both chamber and committees”, he said.

“As ever, I am grateful to colleagues and officials for their readiness to respond and adapt to the current circumstances.

“I hope to write again later today with a further update on the arrangements for a leaders’ virtual question time. In the meantime, please know that the parliamentary authorities and I will continue to keep the situation under daily review and are ready to respond to however the situation evolves.”

Scottish Parliament is on recess until April 19, however the spokesperson confirmed: “Any Q&A session would not be a meeting of the parliament and so not a formal recall of parliament.”

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